Amazon recently received patents for an "ultrasonic bracelet" that tracks workers' movements. Pitched as a labor-saving device, they monitor how efficiently workers fill orders as well as giving them positive "haptic feedback" — a little vibration — as they reach for the correct bins, reducing unnecessary motion.

If this sounds a bit like planning to turn humans into robots, you are not alone; the news prompted a minor hysteria. However frightening, though, it's hardly new. In fact, several long-dead pioneers of "scientific management" anticipated this development, even if they might not entirely approve of Amazon's approach.

Scientific management is often associated with the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor, who was born into a respectable Philadelphia family in 1856. Though he won admission to Harvard University, he became a lathe operator at Midvale Steel Works, a company known for producing high-end steel armaments, steam turbines, and other products that required utter precision.